Sunday Potpourri, 10/3/21

Religion

A voice crying in the wilderness?

I am not asking Christians to stop seeing superhero movies or listening to pop music, but we need to be mindful of how we use our time. Many of the popular stories in our culture leave us worse off. Instead of haunting us, they glorify vice, distract us from ourselves, lift our mood without lifting our spirits, and make us envious and covetous of fame, sexual conquests, and material possessions.

Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Rawls’ secular convolution

[I]t took [John] Rawls several hundred pages of Harvard-level disquisition and ‘veils of ignorance’ analogies to restate Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Mathew 7:12.

‌Antonio García Martínez, in the course of an essay on why he is embracing Judaism.

First, I almost laughed out loud at Martínez’s summary of Rawls’ best-known, laboriously-constructed, moral (?) principle.

Second, Martínez makes a good case for fleeing secular modernity to a religion of some sort, and makes a good-enough case for Judaism — pretty movingly, actually. I could gladly have quoted much more.

But he makes no case for why he needed to leave Roman Catholicism, to which all of the Old Testament is likewise available, to secure the Old Testament for his children, nor did he even acknowledge that he’s leaving Catholicism, not secularism.

Is Roman Catholicism indistinguishable from secularism to him? Was he living as secular within the Latin Church?

PRE-PUBLICATION "UPDATE": Rod Dreher, who apparently is friends with Martínez, says he "was baptized Catholic [but] lost his faith in adulthood … AGM does not make a theological argument for Judaism, explaining why he chose it over returning to the Catholicism of his youth, or over any other religious option. It sounds like he’s taking a leap of faith that God really did reveal Himself to the Hebrews, and that unique revelation was not improved on by Jesus of Nazareth or Mohammed."

I had not heard of his loss of faith.

Good news, fake news

Nobody escapes suffering. Trite words, but true ones. I think the main reason I get so mad at happy-clappy forms of Christianity is because they seem to function to deny suffering, rather than help us to let it refine us. A Christianity that minimizes suffering is fraudulent; its gospel is fake news. Mustapha Mond’s phrase “Christianity without tears” applies here. Suffering is a sign of grave disorder in the cosmos — a disorder rooted in sin, and ending in death. These are heavy mysteries.

Rod Dreher, ‌Into The Darkness

Politics

For your prayerful consideration

barring a serious health issue, the odds are good that [Donald Trump] will be the [Republican] nominee for president in 2024

New York Times Editorial Board (italics added).

Consider adapting that italicized clause for your daily prayers.

I personally cannot presume to pray "Please, Lord, smite Donald Trump." But I can prayerfully share my concern about his toxicity, and that I like the USA well enough to lament it, and that our future worries me half sick when my faith is weak.

Chutpah

However the legislative gamesmanship playing out on Capitol Hill is resolved over the coming days, one thing is certain: The Democrats got themselves into this mess. They tried to enact an agenda as sweeping as the New Deal or Great Society though they enjoy margins of support vastly smaller than FDR or LBJ — and though their razor-thin majorities in both houses of Congress are themselves deeply divided between progressive and moderate factions.

The Greeks would have called it hubris. A Borscht Belt comedian would have talked of chutzpah. Either way, it’s hard to deny the Democrats have fallen prey to delusions of grandeur.

Damon Linker, ‌Why do progressive Democrats expect their agenda to pass with such a small majority?

Mutually-profitable kayfabe

Did you know that Russians hacked our electrical grid? Did you know that Trump was connected to a server communicating with Russians? Did you know that Russians were paying bounties for dead American soldiers in Afghanistan? Get his taxes—the answers are there. When The New York Times eventually got ahold of them and parenthetically noted, amidst a cloud of dire innuendo concerning profits and losses of his real estate business, that no evidence existed in them pointing to any ties to Russia, the narrative was already too well entrenched to dislodge.

The Russia hysteria served a psychological function for those at a loss as to how the country they led had slipped from their grasp. It allowed them to offload the blame for the serial failures through which they rendered themselves beatable by a carnival barker onto the machinations of a foreign power. It allowed them to indulge fantasies of the president’s imminent replacement. It helped media companies reverse a downward spiral and restore themselves to profitability as they turned all of public life into a mutually profitable kayfabe with the object of their obsession.

Wesley Yang (Hyperlink added because I had no idea what "kayfabe" was. Once you know, "mutually-profitable kayfabe" becomes an elegant distillation of much of our public-life-as-reported — though I get the feeling that a lot of the true political animosity between parties is all-too-real now.)

My remaining concern is: Isn’t "mutually-profitable kayfabe" at least semi-redundandant? What kayfabe is zero-sum?

Perspective

As far back as Leviticus, priests were given the power of quarantine (13:46), masking (13:45), and even the destruction of property (14:43-47) in the interest of managing and containing disease. Throughout history, political authorities have exercised all sorts of powers for the sake of protecting the health of those God has given them authority over. The interdependent nature of the created order means that there is hardly a law that can be passed which does not have some effect on health. The health of our bodies is not a penultimate summum bonum requiring slavish insistence on removing all potential hazards, but our existence as embodied creatures means that whatever other endeavors are going on, health is always somewhere nearby either as a constitutive process or an important outcome.

‌Biopolitics Are Unavoidable

Just a little quibble over whether one human can own another

Even during the Civil War—I think we’re more divided now than we were then. As Lincoln said, we all prayed to the same God. We all believed in the same Constitution. We just differed over the question of slavery.

Ryan Williams, President of the Claremont Institute, explaining to Emma Green how America is more divided now than in the Civil War.

"Just differed over the question of slavery." This man is too tone-deaf to be President of the Dog Pound, but he’s atop a big Trumpist-Right "think" tank.

What if there’s no omelet?

There’s a famous French Revolution-era maxim that declares that one does not make an omelet without breaking eggs. That maxim has served as a shorthand warning against Utopianism ever since.**

But what if there’s not even an omelet? What if the movement is simply about breaking eggs? What if “fighting” isn’t a means to an end, but rather the end itself?

David French, ‌A Whiff of Civil War in the Air

Culture and Culture War

Some limits of liberalism

The American Political Science Association was faced with the Claremont Institute wanting two panels that included John Eastman — he of the notorious memo on how Mike Pence could legally steal the election for Trump. It offered a sort of Covid-era compromise: those panels would be virtual (thus lessening the likelihood of vigorous protests of the live portion of the meeting).

I have not read what Claremont said upon withdrawing from the meeting, but I’d wager it invoked classically liberal values:

Liberalism stands for the free and open society. But does that mean it must make space for those who would destroy the free and open society? If the answer is yes, liberalism would seem to have a death wish. If the answer is no, liberalism looks hypocritical: Oh, so you’re for open debate, but only if everyone debating is a liberal! There really is no way to resolve this tension except to say that liberalism favors a free and open society, but not without limits. It can tolerate disagreement and dissent, but not infinitely. And writing a memo to the president explaining precisely how he could mount a coup that would overturn liberal democratic government in the United States crosses that line.

Damon Linker, ‌An academic scuffle tests the limits of free debate

Tacit misogyny?

It is striking that there is no … zealous campaign to abandon the word “men” in favour of “prostate-havers”, “ejaculators” or “bodies with testicles”.

The Economist, ‌Why the word “woman” is tying people in knots

Uprooted

Even if you are living where your forefathers have lived for generations, you can bet that the smartphone you gave your child will unmoor them more effectively than any bulldozer.

In all the time I have spent with people who live in genuinely rooted cultures — rooted in time, place and spirit — whether in the west of Ireland or West Papua, I’ve generally been struck by two things. One is that rooted people are harder to control. The industrial revolution could not have happened without the enclosure of land, and the destruction of the peasantry and the artisan class. People with their feet on the ground are less easily swayed by the currents of politics, or by the fashions of urban ideologues or academic theorists.

The second observation is that people don’t tend to talk much about their “identity” — or even think about it — unless it is under threat. The louder you have to talk about it, it seems, the more you have probably lost. The range of freewheeling, self-curated “identities” thrown up by the current “culture war” shows that we are already a long way down the road that leads away from genuine culture.

Paul Kingsnorth

Plus ça change …

We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories

Cecil Rhodes, quoted by Edward Goldsmith, Development As Colonialism.

More:

Throughout the non-industrial world, it was only if such conditions could no longer be enforced, (usually when a new nationalist or populist government came to power), that formal annexation was resorted to. As Fieldhouse puts it, “Colonialism was not a preference but a last resort”.

Slowly as traditional society disintegrated under the impact of colonialism and the spread of Western values, and as the subsistence economy was replaced by the market economy on which the exploding urban population grew increasingly dependent – the task of maintaining the optimum conditions for Western trade and penetration became correspondingly easier. As a result, by the middle of the twentieth century as Fieldhouse notes: “European merchants and investors could operate satisfactorily within the political framework provided by most reconstructed indigenous states as their predecessors would have preferred to operate a century earlier but without facing those problems which had once made formal empire a necessary expedient”.

What could possibly go wrong?

Back in 1991, I saw the late Professor Derrick Bell, a well-known Critical Race Theorist from Harvard Law School, talk about how proud he was that he got his students, including a specific Jewish woman, who did not think of themselves as white, to recognize and become much more conscious of their whiteness.

What strikes me about this literature is how it ignores what seems to me to be the obvious dangers of encouraging a majority of the population to emphasize and internalize a racial identity, and, moreover, to think of themselves as having racial interests opposed to those of the non-white population. I mean, what could go wrong? It would be one thing to note the obvious dangers of increased ethnonationalism, racial conflict, and so on, and explain why the author believes the risk-reward ratio is favorable. But the literature I came across (which admittedly is not comprehensive), the possibility that this could backfire is simply ignored.

David Bernstein, “White Racial Consciousness” as a Dangerous Progressive Project – Reason.com

A relatively harmless polarity

Some parents react to a child being a National Merit Scholar by saying "Woohoo! A shot at Harvard, or Yale, or Princeton!" Others say "Woohoo! Full scholarship to State U!"

[I]n 2018-2019, more National Merit Scholars joined the Crimson Tide than enrolled in Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Michigan the University of Chicago, and virtually every other top university in the land.

David French, ‌American Higher Education, Ideologically Separate and Unequal

Miscellany

I’ll have to take a pass

I want small businesses to succeed, but having just heard about a local Bourbon & Cigar lounge, I’ll have to take a pass.

I have no problem with the bourbon, but it took me about 16 years to kick tobacco, with pipe and cigar being my favored poisons. I haven’t touched tobacco during the subsequent more-than-half of my life, and I’m not starting again.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Pathos, Ethos, Logos

A [large] group of [Evangelicals] opposed to the current social justice turn in the church created a document called the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel to stake out their position. This was a classic attempt to debate substance. It contains a number of specific affirmations and denials based on the signers’ interpretations of scripture …

[T]hey attempted to find common ground, but ultimately rejected today’s social justice movement. The key is that this statement was a list of substantive affirmations and denials that represented a form of logical argument.

[S]omebody asked Tim Keller about the statement during the Q&A period of a conference he was speaking at. A video of his response (which has subsequently been removed due to a copyright claim) was posted. Here’s what he said:

It’s not so much what [the statement] says, but what it does. It’s trying to marginalize people talking about race and justice, it’s trying to say, “You’re really not biblical” and it’s not fair in that sense … If somebody tried to go down [the statement] with me, “Will you agree with this, will you agree with this,” I would say, “You’re looking at the level of what it says and not the level of what it’s doing." I do think what it’s trying to do is it’s trying to say, “Don’t make this emphasis, don’t worry about the poor, don’t worry about the injustice.” That’s really what it’s saying.

This was an off-the-cuff response to a question and probably did not reflect a fully considered and thought-out position on the matter. It was also not officially taped and was captured by cell phone. However, after the video caused a small controversy, he could have issued a clarifying statement. He did not and to the best of my knowledge has never done so, allowing his statement to stand as his take.

Aaron Renn, If You’re Debating Substance, You’ve Already Lost (emphasis added)

I could have lost a lot less time losing arguments over my life, or at least saved the time it took to lose them, had I not utterly disregarded pathos and ethos in favor of logos.

I always considered pathos– and ethos-heavy arguments a form of cheating. Aristotle apparently did not. I just might possibly have gotten this one wrong, right?

By the time the ink has dried on this, figuratively speaking, I probably will have forgotten the important lesson Aaron Renn carried from Aristotle. But as I’m no longer arguing publicly and passionately, it doesn’t much matter.


Jesse Singal is a card-carrying progressive who, lucky for us, has a very good crap-detector for progressive quackery. A progressive has heightened ethos when critiquing any progressive phenomenon, which by explains why conservatives love guys like him and, by analogy, Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas.

But calling "Bullshit!" in a way conservatives like will get a progressive falsely labeled reactionary by other progressives, and so it is with Singal.

Social Science Is Hard: Resume Audit Studies Edition is not really calling Bullshit, but pointing out the difficulties of social science, using an example from studies that purport to show racism in the U.S. I won’t try to summarize it, but it will be misrepresented as a denial that racism is real rather than affirming the elusiveness of proof.

I suspect that Singal’s problem is akin to mine: his logos is fine, but he refuses resort to pathos, and his ethos — what he’s (allegedly) doing (aid and comfort to the enemy), not what he’s saying — make his substantive points categorically impermissible.

Damn shame. He’s perceptive. I’ve learned a lot from him.


We invaded shortly after the 9/11 attacks with two limited goals in mind: decapitating Al Qaeda (including capturing or killing Osama bin Laden) and toppling the Taliban government that had allowed the group to use the country as a launching pad for terrorism targeting the United States. The second goal was accomplished very quickly. The first took far longer — nearly a decade — because bin Laden escaped into the mountains and managed to elude capture in Pakistan. But this goal, too, was finally achieved in May 2011.

While the hunt for bin Laden dragged on, the American military took on numerous additional goals. Before we knew it, we were committed to transforming Afghanistan into a functional, stable democracy with a military and police force capable of standing up to and fighting back against the Taliban’s unceasing efforts to exert and expand control over parts of the country. This aim also required fighting corruption. And providing education for girls and opportunities for women. And working to grow the economy. And fighting the drug trade.

In the process, Afghanistan became an American vassal state … American withdrawal is highly likely to result in a reversal of all the goals that have been added to the mission over the years.

That, in effect, is what Biden was saying in his speech on Wednesday officially announcing the intent to withdraw all troops from the country (aside from a limited number of soldiers left behind to secure the American embassy in Kabul) by the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in September. The message was that we succeeded in achieving our original goals years ago, we’ve failed to achieve the additional ones, there’s no realistic path to changing this outcome, and so it’s time for America to come home and stop trying to do the impossible.

Damon Linker, When the Taliban takes Kabul

Linker had another fine column recently, too, but since I don’t have to write about 45 any more, I shan’t.


Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns has written an extremely timely five-part critique of the Biden administration’s "infrastructure" bill, the American Jobs Plan. It is not a partisan hit job; the Republicans (had they gotten beyond "Infrastructure Week" being a sardonic joke) would have made the same sorts of mistakes because those mistakes are now an American tradition.

The gist is that we haven’t figured out the wisdom of stopping digging because the hole we’ve dug ourselves is plenty deep enough already.

  1. The American Jobs Plan Will Make Our Infrastructure Crisis Worse
  2. The Half-Truth on Infrastructure at the Heart of the American Jobs Plan
  3. When it Comes to Infrastructure, the American Jobs Plan is Business as Usual
  4. The American Jobs Plan Delays Necessary Infrastructure Reform
  5. How Local Leaders Should Adapt to the American Jobs Plan]([The American Jobs Plan Delays Necessary Infrastructure Reform)

It’s a longish read. If you haven’t paid any attention to our infrastructure folly in the past, and you don’t want to snort and dismiss it, it will be a longer read (to grasp his blindingly obvious points that so few have been making).


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Potpourri, Solstice 2018

1

Recent budgets show that the federal government spends around $160 billion in loans, tax credits, and grants that help pay for college—the province of the top third of ­society—while allocating $20 billion for vocational and job training. The supposedly progressive idea of “free college for all” is a give-away to that top third of society. This epitomizes our problem. Andrew Carnegie built libraries in small towns throughout the country. Today’s billionaires shovel their wealth into colleges and universities that serve those at the top. Whether measured in moral prestige, cultural status, or economic rewards, over the last two generations there has been a perverse fulfillment of Jesus’s words: To them that have, more shall be given.

A few years ago, I reviewed Our Kids, Robert Putnam’s book about the fraying social contract in America (“Success Is Not Dignity,” May 2015). I noted that our ruling class fixates on upward mobility, as if the deepest problem in our society is that a few super-talented kids from difficult backgrounds are being denied opportunities to go to places like Harvard ….

R.R. Reno This is a very good “Public Square” contribution, which should be free of the paywall at least by January 20 or so.

Bit by bit I’m starting to understand how we wound up with President Donald J. Trump, and how I’m so much a part of that top third that it’s hard, in this political way, to relate to those who aren’t.

2

More:

Diversity is a shibboleth that shifts attention from the substantive question of whether our elites serve the nation’s interests to the cosmetic question of whether or not the rich and powerful “look like America.”

R.R. Reno. Chew on that one a while.

3

They know better:

Highly paid software engineers and tech executives aren’t stupid. Although they may not have read Patricia Snow’s profound analysis of the spiritual damage done by our addiction to smart phones (“Look At Me,” May 2016), they know that what they’re delivering to the world is harmful. For the last thirty years, educators have foolishly pressed for computers in classrooms and laptops or tablets for all children. Techno-activists call for high-speed Internet access for everyone. Meanwhile, those captaining the technology juggernaut send their kids to expensive private schools that have “no screen” policies. In Silicon Valley, it’s common for the rich to have nannies sign “no screen” clauses in their employment contracts. This is meant to prevent them from using their phones in front of the kids. Chamath Palihapitiya made hundreds of ­millions of dollars as an early Facebook executive. He has imposed a “no screen time whatsoever” rule on his three children, ages six through ten. By the way, Facebook recently launched the Messenger Kids app to increase usage by children.

R.R. Reno.

4

Heather Mac Donald has been an indispensable voice of sanity in the frenzied debates about sex on campus. She recently commented on the hysterical reaction of feminist organizations to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s revisions of the Obama-era rule for campus tribunals adjudicating charges of rape and sexual abuse (“Feminists’ Undue Process”). The new guidelines tilt in the direction of a stronger commitment to due process. Mac Donald notes that a fierce regulatory approach to sex among college students is not at odds with sexual liberation. It is in fact a predictable concomitant.

The solution to what is called campus rape is a change of culture from one of entitled promiscuity to one of personal responsibility. In the absence of such norms as prudence, restraint, and respect, the bureaucracy, extending all the way up to the federal government, has happily rushed in to fill the void. The weirdest aspect of the campus sex scene is this bureaucratization of coitus, which once nominally rebellious students now self-righteously demand.

Mac Donald describes what Alexis de Tocqueville feared might become the trajectory of the democratic age. Shorn of traditional cultural norms, atomized men and women are unable to organize their lives in sustainable ways. In their vulnerability, they beg for interventions by “an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate.”

R.R. Reno

5

In the United States, for example, some 40 percent of children are today born outside of marriage. The overall fertility rate has fallen to 1.76 children per woman. American children for the most part receive twelve years of public schooling that is scrubbed clean of God and Scripture. And it is now possible to lose one’s livelihood or even to be prosecuted for maintaining traditional Christian or Jewish views on various subjects.

Add to this the fact that the principal project of European and American political elites for decades now has been the establishment of a “liberal international order” whose aim is to export American norms and values to other nations, and you have a stunning picture of what the United States has become—a picture that in certain respects resembles that of Napoleonic France: an ideologically anti-religious, anti-traditionalist universalist power seeking to bring its version of the Enlightenment to the nations of the world, if necessary by force.

Yoram Hazony, Conservative Democracy (emphasis added)

6

[T]he essential fact of Russian tinkering with 2016 is that it represents an attempt to undermine democracy by manipulating and subverting what voters think about their choices. Russia, of course, had no right to engage in that kind of subterfuge — and neither does anyone else. Unfortunately, U.S. elections are already rife with similar efforts made on behalf of powerful domestic interests with their own hostility toward fair and free democracy.

… [I]t’s important to see Russia’s electoral tampering as part of a broader landscape of American democracy in decline — one that won’t be solved even if every member of the Trump campaign eventually winds up in a prison cell. American elections haven’t been fair for a very long time. Now is as good a time as any to start trying to reverse that.

Elizabeth Breunig. I’m not quite sure how we start trying to reverse Citizens United, the focus of Breunig’s wrath, but I’ve got a soft spot for the young lefty, and we, from Donald Trump to Elizabeth Warren, do seem to have a lot of distrust of the system.

7

The underlying story isn’t brand new, but it’s my favorite recent news (in the sense that ya’ gotta laugh or you’ll cry) from the gang that couldn’t shoot straight:

“Twitter allowed someone to invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message,” an alarmed Giuliani tweeted a few weeks ago, calling Twitter “card-carrying anti-Trumpers.” In fact, Giuliani had accidentally sabotaged his own tweet with a punctuation error — “G-20.In” — that automatically created a hyperlink to an Indian Web address. A clever observer quickly bought the domain and created a page that said “Donald Trump is a traitor.” Giuliani’s errant accusation was all the funnier because he’s also Trump’s “cybersecurity adviser.”

I had the fairly strong impression that Giuliani was quite a good mayor of New York City, but do not underestimate The Peter Principle.

G-20.in now has a list of links to anti-Trump news since Giuliani’s original SNAFU.

8

Syria is not a “gift” that can be “given” to Putin, despite the blinkered American political climate which places everything in that asinine context. It’s a country over which the United States has no legal authority, and never did, despite years of casualties and billions spent

Michael Tracey

9

I am an adjunct Lecturer in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). I’m an expert in clinical epidemiology, particularly in systematic review methods, epidemiologic bias and evidence quality assessment. As a researcher at UCSF, I managed the Cochrane HIV/AIDS Group for over a decade and on several occasions served as a consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO) in their HIV guideline development processes.

For about 13 years, I also masqueraded “as a woman,” taking medical measures which suggest, shall we say, that I was completely committed to that lifestyle. Most men would have recoiled from this, but in my estrogen-drug-soaked stupor it seemed like a good idea. In 2013 I stopped taking estrogen for health reasons and very rapidly came back to my senses. I ceased all effort to convey the impression that I was a woman and carried on with life.

As you may imagine, I have a lot of anger at transgenderism and its enablers, as well as an “inward bruise” (as Melville called it). I am not a happy camper. I have been badly harmed ….

Hacsi Horváth, The Theatre of the Body: A detransitioned epidemiologist examines suicidality, affirmation, and transgender identity. This is a long piece, and I’ll admit finding it too depressingly familiar to read in full.

10

OMG! If Trump has lost Ann Coulter, then he’s lost … er, I dunno. Something.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Clippings and commentary, 12/1/18

1

For a couple of months now, I’ve asked myself a question as I begin to blog on this platform:

Since Alan Jacobs and Caitlin Johnstone are right, what’s really worth blogging today? How about the practical outworkings of their respective insights?

I think that has been helpful, but the two mostly articulate what I knew in my bones already—not that I’ve known it all that long, but a couple of years at least. So I’m not sure that all that much has changed.

2

In that light, Andrew Sullivan was on fire Friday.

His weekly contribution to New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer typically is in three unrelated parts, and often his second or third part drops off into something regarding his (homo)sexuality. Those often bore me.

But this week he had three strong parts, the first on The Right’s Climate Change Shame:

I honestly can’t see how the science of this can be right or left. It’s either our best working hypothesis or not. And absolutely, we can have a debate about how to best counter it: massive investment in new green technology; a carbon tax; cap and trade; private-sector innovation of the kind that has helped restrain emissions in the U.S. already. And this debate could be had on right-left lines. But we cannot even have the debate because American conservatism has ruled it out of bounds.

Then there is the final, classic Republican nonargument: “I don’t see it.” When nothing else works, just subjectively deny all objective reality.

This title piece is very strong.

3

True to form, the second part is about sex, but he’s very stimulating:

Does the fact that less than one percent of humans feel psychologically at odds with their biological sex mean that biological sex really doesn’t exist and needs to be defined away entirely? Or does it underline just how deep the connection between sex and gender almost always is?

… the fact that this society is run overwhelmingly on heterosexual lines makes sense to me, given their overwhelming majority. As long as the government does not actively persecute or enable the persecution of a minority, who cares? An intersex person is as deeply human as anyone else. So is a gay or transgender person. It’s stupid to pretend they are entirely normal, because it gives the concept of normality too much power over us ….

4

Finally, he gets into his own sexuality but in context of a delightful reductio ad absurdum of intersectionality:

[A]n oppressor can also be identified in multiple, intersectional ways. I spend my days oppressing marginalized people and women, because, according to social-justice ideology, I am not just male, but also white and cisgendered. My sin — like the virtue of the oppressed — is multifaceted. So multifaceted, in fact, that being gay must surely be included. Also: HIV-positive. Come to think of it: immigrant. And an English Catholic — which makes me a victim in my childhood and adolescence. Suddenly, I’m a little more complicated, aren’t I? But wait! As a Catholic, I am also an oppressive enabler of a misogynist institution, and at the same time, as a gay Catholic, I’m a marginalized member of an oppressed “LGBTQ” community, as well as sustaining an institution that oppresses other gays.

It can get very complicated very fast. I remain confident that I remain an oppressor because my sex, gender, and race — let alone my belief in liberal constitutionalism and limited government — probably trump all my victim points. But that is a pretty arbitrary line, is it not? Think of the recent leftist discourse around white women. One minute, they are the vanguard of the fight against patriarchy; the next minute, they are quislings devoted to white supremacy and saturated with false consciousness.

And that’s why I favor more intersectionality, not less. Let’s push this to its logical conclusion. Let’s pile on identity after identity for any individual person; place her in multiple, overlapping oppression dynamics, victim and victimizer, oppressor and oppressed; map her class, race, region, religion, marital status, politics, nationality, language, disability, attractiveness, body weight, and any other form of identity you can. After a while, with any individual’s multifaceted past, present, and future, you will end up in this multicultural world with countless unique combinations of endless identities in a near-infinite loop of victim and victimizer. You will, in fact, end up with … an individual human being!

In the end, all totalizing ideologies disappear up their own assholes. With intersectionality, we have now entered the lower colon.

In saying that, he probably has made himself an Enemy of the People—the kind of creeps who don’t just tweet insults, but who show up at your home en masse, beating on the door and threatening imminent harm.

For the rest of us, Sullivan provided some material to save the world (or rebuild after collapse).

5

For two years, Democrats have denounced President Trump’s rhetoric as divisive, and sometimes they’ve been right. Yet they’re also only too happy to polarize the electorate along racial lines, insinuating that Republicans steal elections and pick judges who nurse old bigotries.

WSJ Editorial Board, Democrats and Racial Division

6

Garry Kasparov, the chess champion and chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative (with which I’m associated), has an excellent suggestion for how to respond immediately to Russia’s attack Sunday on three Ukrainian naval ships operating in their own territorial waters: Send a flotilla of U.S. and NATO warships through the narrow Kerch Strait to pay a port call to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov.

The move would be Trumanesque, recalling the Berlin airlift of 1948. It would symbolize the West’s solidarity with our embattled Ukrainian ally, our rejection of Russia’s seizure of Crimea, and our defiance of the Kremlin’s arrogant, violent, lawless behavior. And it would serve as powerful evidence that, when it comes to standing up for the free world, Donald Trump is not, after all, Vladimir Putin’s poodle.

In other words, don’t count on it.

Where’s Sean Hannity when you need him to be embarrassed for his country?

Bret Stephens

Russia is our whipping boy (the Republicans’ after the cold war, now the Democrats’ and the elites’), and my reflex at new accusations against it is skepticism. But darned if that bridge over the Kerch Straits isn’t deliberately too low for big ships. Sometimes the accusations may be true.

7

Mr. Bush came to the Oval Office under the towering, sharply defined shadow of Ronald Reagan, a onetime rival for whom he had served as vice president.

No president before had arrived with his breadth of experience: decorated Navy pilot, successful oil executive, congressman, United Nations delegate, Republican Party chairman, envoy to Beijing, director of Central Intelligence.

Over the course of a single term that began on Jan. 20, 1989, Mr. Bush found himself at the helm of the world’s only remaining superpower. The Berlin Wall fell; the Soviet Union ceased to exist; the communist bloc in Eastern Europe broke up; the Cold War ended.

His firm, restrained diplomatic sense helped assure the harmony and peace with which these world-shaking events played out, one after the other.

Karen Tumulty, Washington Post. In other words, his greatest accommplishment may have been the war on falling Russia that did not happen.

R.I.P.

8

Alan Jacobs has been far less obsessive about debunking “cultural Marxism” as a useful category than various bloggers have been in accusing people of it.

Jacobs’ latest, starting with the definition of someone who thinks the term is useful:

So what is cultural Marxism? In brief, it is a belief that cultural productions (books, institutions, etc.) and ideas are emanations of underlying power structures, so we must scrutinize and judge all culture and ideas based on their relation to power.

The problem here, put as succinctly as I can put it, is that you can take this view of culture without being a Marxist, and you can be a Marxist without taking this view of culture.

(enough with the “Cultural Marxism” already)

I hope I’ve never personally used the term here, but if I have, I repent in sackcloth and ashes. The internet neighborhoods I frequent tend to be populated by people who use the term (no, they are not notably anti-Semitic), so it may have made its way into a quotation.

Maybe I should use its use as a categorical diqualification to join my Feedly stream—not as a litmus test for anti-Semitism, but as a litmus test for loose thinking.

9

I think the most powerful argument I have for my fellow Christians is that supporting Trump is destructive to the way we represent Christ. Some Christians talked about trying to guide Trump through our support and help him be a better man. Maybe they actually believe that would happen, but the opposite has happened. Evangelicals have become worse rather than Trump becoming better. Evangelicals once believed that our sexual morals mattered in leadership but no more. The defense of Trump by some evangelicals reaches the height of hypocrisy. I have Christian contacts who were very hard on Trump during the primaries and were disgusted with Trump in the general election. If they did vote for Trump, they held their nose while they did it. Today, to my dismay, some of those same Christians have turned into some of his biggest supporters. Christians did not save Trump. Trump corrupted them.

And none of this is to ignore that by supporting Trump, Christians have tied themselves to his race baiting, sexism, lying and incompetence. I know that many of my Christian friends hated that argument when I used it. They pointed out that just because they voted for Trump does not mean they agree with him on everything. I understand that logically. But in reality people are going to associate a vote with Trump as an affirmation of all the characteristics linked to him. It does not matter that you voted for Trump because you did not like Clinton; when you vote Trump you get the whole package. All the lying, race-baiting, sexism and the rest is something you will be seen as endorsing. So that 81 percent of white evangelicals number will continue to plague evangelicalism for some time to come.

It is better to stand for something, even if that something is rejected by the larger society, than to show oneself as willing to compromise one’s own morals to achieve political victories ….

George Yancey, Being Destroyed from Within

10

There is no level of fraudulence, falsity, and charlatanism that our elites will not eat up on the subject of “education,” because the subject itself is empty of content (hey-hey-ho-ho Western-Civ-has-got-to-go led to the most appalling vacuum) and thus all of the grifters, shakedown artists, hucksters, frauds, and the like have come flooding in to fill the void.

Matt in VA, quoted in Rod Dreher’s story on a fraudulent Louisiana alternative school.

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Potpourri, 11/15/18

1

I never really kissed dating goodbye as a teenager in the mid-2000s — to be honest, I was pretty late in kissing it hello. But like many who were brought up in contact with evangelical culture, I absorbed its tenets almost by osmosis even though I never even read the whole book. Falling in love means sharing a piece of your heart that you’ll never get back. Sex is a slippery slope, generally with disaster at the bottom. Hard decisions could be boiled down to one rule: Keep it chaste. Do things right, though, and you’ll get the reward you deserve. Follow the instructions: results guaranteed.

Christine Emba.

It’s the promise of a fairy tale ending that offends me. Evangelicals lack any tragic sense of life. (Just “pray away the gay,” for instance.)

Or maybe that absence of tragic sense is a besetting American sin. More Emba:

In essence, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and its (inevitable, if you think about it) fall represent a mind-set prominent in evangelical culture, but also in American society more broadly.

We insist that meritocracy works and combine it with a valorization of hard work (which itself stems from our country’s majority-Protestant roots). To maintain the story that success is accessible to all, we’ve developed a tendency to seek out and elevate simplistic formulas that we hope come with guarantees. Stay pure until marriage, and your marriage will flourish. Follow the “success sequence,” and you’ll never be poor. Go to the right school, and all career doors will open. Elect the right candidate, and America will be great once more.

But the dark side of all this is that when the formulas fail — as they so often do — it’s you who must have done something wrong. And then it’s up to you to fix it on your own. Bad marriage? You must have screwed around as a teen. Still in public housing? Should have gotten a better job. The if/then mind-set doesn’t take into account how much is actually out of our personal control, or the systemic forces — race, class, family history — that might hold someone back.

It is difficult to counter such an ingrained — and easy — habit of thought. But give him credit: In reevaluating “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” Harris is modeling one way of doing so — he’s admitting to complexity and engaging directly with others, rather than sending down recommendations from above. Alas, even this admirable attempt won’t undo the harms that his formula caused in the first place.

But let the implosion of a cultural touchstone like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” serve as a lesson, or at least a warning. The next time we’re tempted toward too-formulaic thinking, we’ll know to take it with a grain of salt. After all, life is rarely so pure.

2

Once upon a time, Protestant congregations had pulpits. This was a form of church furniture, a glorified lectern as it where, behind which pastors read the text for their sermon and preached it to boot. Today, contemporary design of church buildings makes little of fixed places for anyone participating in worship, except for the drummer who may be quarantined in a drum shield.

… as ministers of God’s word, pastors’ actions, including their feet, while communicating a message of such great moment should encourage the idea of permanence. That is one reason for having a pulpit with serious heft. It symbolizes that what goes on in this space is of great significance and enduring value (though some look so permanent that even the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth will not unsettle them).

The permanence of the word preached is also a reason for ministers to stay in the pocket behind the pulpit and not move around. At best, happy feet is a distraction that calls more attention to the man than his message. At worst, they invite liturgical dance. So if the argument from permanence does not help, maybe the thought of overweight men and women in leotards will assist pastors (some on the rotund side themselves) keep both feet firmly planted behind their congregation’s ample pulpit.

D.G. Hart

3

[S]cientists are … making declarations ex cathedra — as a direct result of intellectual movements that began in humanities scholarship twenty-five years ago.

So for those of you who think that the humanities are marginal and irrelevant, put that in your mental pipe and contemplatively smoke it for a while.

Many years ago the great American poet Richard Wilbur wrote a poem called “Shame,” in which he imagined “a cramped little state with no foreign policy, / Save to be thought inoffensive.”

Sheep are the national product. The faint inscription
Over the city gates may perhaps be rendered,
“I’m afraid you won’t find much of interest here.”

The people of this nation could not be more overt in their humility, their irrelevance, their powerlessness. But …

Their complete negligence is reserved, however,
For the hoped-for invasion, at which time the happy people
(Sniggering, ruddily naked, and shamelessly drunk)
Will stun the foe by their overwhelming submission,
Corrupt the generals, infiltrate the staff,
Usurp the throne, proclaim themselves to be sun-gods,
And bring about the collapse of the whole empire.

Alan Jacobs, the imminent collapse of an empire

4

[W]hen you are told endlessly that there is no meaning to existence, then guess what? You actually start to think that way. And then everything loses its flavor. Everything starts to taste like rice cakes.

… [Y]ou cannot have it both ways. You cannot bleach divinity and Transcendence out of the cosmos and tell everyone that the whole affair is just an aimless and pointless accident, and then turn around and talk to us about the “moral necessity” of this or that urgent social cause.

Larry Chapp via Rod Dreher.

5

From before the election, but when I was otherwise occupied:

Trumpism … is the new normal. It is not going away. And there is no going back. The challenge for the center-right and center-left across the West is to accommodate this new normal in ways that do not empower authoritarianism, provoke constitutional unraveling, or incite civil unrest. And it seems to me that the lesson of the last two years is that the Republican Party is unable and unwilling to perform that function. It has turned itself into a cult behind a figure hostile to liberal democratic norms, responsible government, and any notion of moderation. It is less a political party than a mass movement sustained by shame-free, mendacious propaganda around a man whose articulated values place him more in the company of Putin and Duterte than Merkel and Macron.

The GOP cannot be talked out of their surrender to this strongman. With each rhetorical or policy atrocity, they have attached themselves more firmly to him. The dissenters are leaving; the new members of Congress will be even Trumpier than the old. They have abandoned any serious oversight role. Their singular achievement has been supplying judicial ranks who will not stand in the way of executive power. That was the real issue in the Kavanaugh nomination, as Newt Gingrich blurted out last week. A subpoena for the president from the special counsel would be fought, he promised, all the way to the Supreme Court, which is when we would see “whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it.” This is a party bent on enabling authoritarianism, not restraining it.

That’s why I will vote Democrat next Tuesday. I have many issues with the Democrats, as regular readers well know. None of that matters compared with this emergency. I don’t care, in this instance, what their policies are. I am going to vote for them. I can’t stand most of their leaders and fear their radical fringe. I am going to vote for them anyway. Because it is the only responsible thing there is to do.

The Italian leftist, Antonio Gramsci, famously wrote, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” We live in such a time, and we have in front of us one of those morbid symptoms: the current Republican Party. You know what to do.

Andrew Sullivan.

Or as William Blake put it:

what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I’m not at all certain that “judicial ranks … will not stand in the way of executive power” or that such was the aim of confirming them, but Sullivan otherwise is right about the abasement of the GOP, and the House has indeed flipped to the Democrats.

I wrote last week that the midterms would finally tell us what this country now is. And with a remarkable turnout — a 50-year high for a non- presidential election, no less — we did indeed learn something solid and eye-opening. We learned that the American public as a whole has reacted to the first two years of an unfit, delusional, mendacious, malevolent, incompetent authoritarian as president … with relative equanimity. The net backlash is milder than it was against Clinton or Obama (and both of them went on to win reelection).

What I take from this is that Trump really does have a cultlike grip on a whole new population of voters, as well as the reliable Republican voters of the past. That’s not just 42 percent of the country (to use Trump’s approval rating); it’s a motivated 42 percent. And what Trump has successfully done, by corralling right-wing media, tweeting incessantly, dominating the discourse, tending so diligently to his base, and holding rally after rally, is keep that engagement going. Most presidents are interested in governing and sometimes take their eye off the ball politically. Trump is all politics and all salesmanship all the time. And it works. If he can demonstrate this in the midterms, imagine what his reelection campaign will be like.

I’ve been razzed a little for using the term “existential threat” to describe Trump two and a half years ago. But I used it in a specific context: He was and remains such a threat to liberal democracy. Not democracy as a whole. Strongmen can win election after election with big majorities without rigging the vote. A single political party can co-opt the judiciary, or capture the Senate, by democratic means, for illiberal ends. I mean by liberal democracy one in which pluralism is celebrated, power is widely distributed, justice is dispensed without regard to politics, the press is free and respected, minorities protected, and where an opposition has a chance to win real, governing power. The space for this in America has significantly shrunk these past two years and this election has only consolidated that new status quo.

Andrew Sullivan

I’ve detested the Republican party long enough now that my reflex to cringe at Democrat victories passes very quickly, replaced by a resigned feeling of “we are soooooo screwed!” — no matter which major party wins.

6

When you obsess about a problem, you have less energy and passion to pursue solutions. When you fret over every outrage, you elevate those outrages. Stories trend because consumers engage with them, clicking and sharing them, not because the news media dictates that they trend.

I think it would be a solid and beneficial step for us all to simply come to the realizations: Trump is going to Trump. He’s going to lie. He’s going to wink at the racists and Nazis. He’s going to demean women. He’s going to embarrass this country. It’s all going to happen.

Nevertheless, we can take this stand unequivocally: It is all unacceptable and we stand in opposition to it. It is not normal and must never be met as such.

But we must also focus on the future.

Charles Blow

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Troll farming

“Have we ever tried to meddle in other countries’ elections?” Laura Ingraham asked former CIA Director James Woolsey this weekend.

With a grin, Woolsey replied, “Oh, probably.”

“We don’t do that anymore though?” Ingraham interrupted. “We don’t mess around in other people’s elections, Jim?”

“Well,” Woolsey said with a smile, “only for a very good cause.”

(Pat Buchanan, who, for the record, I’m aware has gotten “pretty far out there”)

[I]f Putin’s mischief-making constituted an act of war against the United States, then the U.S. has committed acts of war against an astonishingly long list of countries since the end of World War II. One study estimates that we interfered with no fewer than 81 elections in 45 nations from 1946 to 2000. Such efforts have been so brazen and uncontroversial that former CIA Director James Woolsey recently felt comfortable laughing about them with Laura Ingraham on Fox News.

This doesn’t mean that we should respond to Putin’s program of manipulation with indifference. Far from it. But it does mean that a response of self-righteous indignation is risible. To treat such meddling as an act of war on the part of Russia is either to invoke a blatant double standard that permits the U.S. to do things we stridently denounce in others — or it’s to admit that our own actions have been far more pernicious than we like to think. We definitely need to protect the integrity of our elections, but we should do so without placing ourselves unconvincingly on the moral high ground.

(Damon Linker)

If our meddling in other nations’ elections comes as a surprise to you, you really need to get out more.

The indignation and exaggeration about Russian election meddling disgusts me for reasons too numerous to list (well, some of them are at the sub-articulate level, too), but hypocrisy tops the list. Damon Linker is exactly right that we need to respond, but we make ourselves absurd by feigning clean hands. STFU and do what must be done.

Much as I detest 45, trying to portray him as a Manchurian Candidate is absurd. He serves no master save his own massive ego. Even mammon and mistresses are just means to stoke that fire.

UPDATE:

The astonishing thing about Donald Trump’s response to Robert Mueller’s recent indictments is his inability to recognize that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is about something bigger than him. Look closely at Trump’s tweets.

February 16: “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

February 17: “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”

February 18: “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said “it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.” The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!”

Each tweet makes basically the same point: “Sure, Russia may have tried to undermine American democracy. But what really matters is that I never colluded with Putin and won the presidency fair and square.” Even if you believe that Trump is right—that his campaign never assisted Russia’s efforts to swing the election in his favor and that Russia’s efforts had no material effect on its outcome—the narcissism is breathtaking.

(Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, who then goes off the rails by implying that what Russia did was the equivalent of Pearl Harbor or 9/11)

Also, don’t forget the Time magazine story alluded to here.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.